The best books about Hanoi

Many authors have picked their favorite books about Hanoi and why they recommend each book.

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Simple Art of Vietnamese Cooking

By Binh Duong, Marcia Kiesel,

Book cover of Simple Art of Vietnamese Cooking

This book is written by Binh Duong, the owner and chef of a Vietnamese restaurant in Hartford, CT, and Marcia Kiesel, who was a food and wine magazine journalist and tester. I once opened and ran a popular pho restaurant in Cambridge and I relied heavily, almost fully, on this cookbook. Its recipes are almost never off-tune (and I highly recommend the dipping sauces and condiments chapter). Its recipes are easy to follow and every detail is clearly spelled out. Some ingredients may be foreign (tree ears, tiger lily buds) but nothing a decent Asian market would not have.


Who am I?

Thirty-two years ago, I got my start as a chef by cooking in a shoebox cafe in Boston that played with curious Asian ingredients. Ten years later, after using lots of Asian cookbooks, I was incorporating Thai and Vietnamese cooking into my menus at the restaurant I was running. A few years after that, I opened and ran a Vietnamese restaurant in Cambridge (unfortunately, after major success, it burned down after a year). After this, the tourism board of Malaysia sent me on a four-week trip to write about the street food for FoodArts magazine. It is these experiences that greatly influenced my interest in Southeast Asian cooking.


I wrote...

Vegetarian Planet

By Didi Emmons,

Book cover of Vegetarian Planet

What is my book about?

All the best flavors from all the Earth come to life in a soulful celebration of tasty and inventive food. From Didi Emmons, a terrific young cook who combines a passion for culinary adventure with a love for the honest pleasures of home cooking, these 350 recipes - with more than 150 main dishes - spell an end to boring and bland meatless meals. Full of farm-fresh produce ripe for the eating, hearty grains that warm the soul, and a whole world of new spices and flavors, they promise boundless pleasures for the everyday table.

The Circle of Hanh

By Bruce Weigl,

Book cover of The Circle of Hanh: A Memoir

This is a story of new beginnings and it shook my preconceived notions of what a memoir embodies. By going back to Vietnam years after the war, the author illustrates how love and time can change our opinions… that hate is the easy way out… that differences can allow us to understand how truly precious we all are… that we can come full circle, out of the darkness and into the light.


Who am I?

Living through the Iraq War compelled me to honestly challenge who I was, what I had believed in, and reshape who I am. One aspect to emerge from that is the belief that there is no good war. War is the worst of all endeavors, born from fundamentally weak minds that are blind to imagination and vision. But while I have had a passion for writing about war and speaking out against it, I feel it’s important for people to look beyond my work as just another veteran writing just another war book. In both of my books, the war is a character more than anything else. 


I wrote...

Playing Soldier

By F. Scott Service,

Book cover of Playing Soldier

What is my book about?

As an only child isolated within a troubled family, F. Scott Service found solace in fantasy and imagination, until a fateful day led to the discovery of his father’s Korean War field jacket. What began as innocent emulation and approval, eventually spiraled into a calamitous loss. Faced with a grievous divorce, post-traumatic stress, homelessness, substance abuse, and failure, one night communing with a loaded pistol became the mechanism for self-clarity.

Playing Soldier powerfully captures the unlearning of expectation, the celebration of individuality, and the nourishing of self-acceptance once buried by cultural stamps of approval and societal convention. Braided with humor, courage, fear, despair, and hope, his unflinching story of passage into adulthood and beyond stands as an inspiring example of how he re-forged his true, original self.

Hanoi Journal, 1967

By Carol Cohen McEldowney,

Book cover of Hanoi Journal, 1967

Carol McEldowney, a community organizer in 1967, cut her activist teeth in the student protest movement in the early 1960s as a founding member of Students for a Democratic Society. In 1967, she accepted the opportunity to attend an antiwar conference with Vietnamese diplomats, including Nguyen Thi Binh, in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. Following that meeting, McEldowney and six other Americans traveled on to Hanoi to find out what was happening on the ground. Her transcribed journal tells of this experience, including McEldowney’s anxieties, hopes, and doubts, and presents readers with a glimpse of life for North Vietnamese as well as a window into the questions, concerns, and perceptions of an antiwar activist.

Who am I?

I fell into researching women’s antiwar activism during the U.S. war in Vietnam by chance when I came across evidence of middle-aged American women traveling to Jakarta, Indonesia in 1965 to meet with women from North Vietnam and the National Liberation Front—the enemies of the United States at the time. Discovering that some of these same U.S. women (and many others), would later travel to Hanoi despite the United States conducting extensive bombing raids over North Vietnam, despite travel to North Vietnam being prohibited, and despite some of the women having young children at home, simply astounded me, and I had to find out more.


I wrote...

Women's Antiwar Diplomacy During the Vietnam War Era

By Jessica Frazier,

Book cover of Women's Antiwar Diplomacy During the Vietnam War Era

What is my book about?

In 1965, fed up with President Lyndon Johnson’s refusal to make serious diplomatic efforts to end the Vietnam War, a group of female American peace activists decided to take matters into their own hands by meeting with Vietnamese women to discuss how to end U.S. intervention. While other attempts at women’s international cooperation and transnational feminism have led to cultural imperialism or imposition of American ways on others, Jessica M.Frazier reveals an instance when American women crossed geopolitical boundaries to criticize American Cold War culture, not promote it.

The American women not only solicited Vietnamese women’s opinions and advice on how to end the war but also viewed them as paragons of a new womanhood by which American women could rework their ideas of gender, revolution, and social justice during an era of reinvigorated feminist agitation.